Gay Advocates Eye Supreme Court

Gay groups cite progress, conservatives cry "identity politics."

ByABC News
May 7, 2009, 6:05 PM

May 8, 2009— -- In 2004, the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously struck down an effort to legalize same-sex marriage even though one of its justices -- Rives Kistler -- was openly gay.

Today, with his lesbian colleague Virginia Linder, there are two such justices in Oregon, in part because of the political efforts of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an advocacy group that seeks to put openly gay candidates in public office.

Now, they have set their eyes on the Supreme Court, where rumors surfaced this week that two highly qualified lesbians had made President Barack Obama's initial list to replace Justice David Souter.

With gay marriage now legal in five states, including heartland regions like Iowa and Maine, many activists feel that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) representation on the Court is within their reach.

"There have been 110 Supreme Court judges and 106 of them have been straight, white men," said Denis Dison, vice president of the Victory Fund. "So it's high time to look outside those institutions that produced Supreme Court justices in the past and find someone with different life experiences and different perspectives."

"No one should be barred because of their sexual orientation," he told

Obama has said his appointee would make the court more "diverse" and that he was looking for a justice with "empathy" -- something that conservatives fear might mean having a gay agenda.

"For us in Oregon, [a judge's sexual orientation has] been a real non-issue," said Margie Paris, dean of the University of Oregon Law School.

"We hope they are more sensitive to issues because of their life experiences, but at the same time, expect them not to have a single outlook on life -- that everything has to go my way."

But, said Paris, "It's a fair thing to ask anybody, regardless of their sexual orientation, What are your agendas? That is fair game when you are going to the Supreme Court."